A damaged human organ must be replaced or removed from the body to avoid a spreading infection or organ failure that may lead to death. Will a person wait countless hours for a human donor or accept an animal's organ to replace their damaged organ?
This question arise due to success in transplantation which have causes a problem; a high demand in human organs. Due to certain laws, most human organs come from donors which are brain stem dead which means a limited number of organs are available. Thus arise the idea of using animal organs.
Animal to human transplantation had begun hundreds of years ago. The transfer of an animal organ to a human body is scientifically termed xenotransplantation (xeno meaning foreign). Xenotransplantation initially started when scientists discovered that animal organs share similar characteristics with human organs. As reported by BBC News (1999), the first successful animal to human transplantation was in the year 1682, when a bone from a dog was used to repair the skull of an injured man. During the 1960s, scientists transformed xenotransplantation from what was previously just a simple trial and error experiment into a systematic scientific study. This transformation was fuelled by the worldwide short supply of human organs as a result of an increased demand for organs and critically low rate of organ donation.
Scientists believe that replacing damaged human organs with animal organs may be the only viable option in the near future to overcome the organ shortage crisis. (The ethics of xenotransplantation, 1996) However, the use of animal organs as an alternative to artificial organs in terms of replacing damaged human organs should not be executed due to the ethical issue of the process but also based on the effectiveness of the process.
First and foremost, if xenotransplantation develops into a successful clinical procedure, breeding and killing of animals on a remarkably huge amount would be unavoidable. Contrariwise, there would be insufficient amount of organs and tissues for transplantation. (The ethics of xenotransplantation, 1996) These animals are genetically mutated and breed just to obtain their organs. This raises the issue of animal rights by animal lover communities, which deem the act of using animals for the benefit of human beings as unethical. Animal lovers believe that humans and animals have the same moral status.
According to the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, "the usage of healthy animals as a source of 'spare parts' for humans represents a fundamental denial of the inherent value of those animals' lives". In addition, the British Union stated that as animals share some if not all of human beings' characteristics, this means that animals share similar rights with human beings. Moreover, studies have shown that human and animals have definite behavioural similarities when expressing their emotions. (Dr Filippo Aureli, 2005)
The use of animal for experimental purposes is wrong. Human should not alter the genes of the animals for human benefits. Animal Aid from the United Kingdom stated that animals should not be harmfully exploited by human as they have value in their own rights. (The ethics of xenotransplantation, 1996)
Furthermore, the welfare of animal has long been an issue. For instance, the Animal Welfare Act 1999 regulates the use of animal for testing or experiment through Institutional Animal Ethics Committees, which is represented by an animal welfare organisation. Currently there are many animal welfare organisations in every continent protecting the rights of animals in the field of medical science research.
Animal welfare organisations ensure that the use of animals is justified by taking into consideration the scientific and educational benefits, minimise the number of animals used in each project, refine procedures to avoid distress in animals and promote the use of techniques that replace the use of animals. (Animal Welfare Institute, n.d)
Besides, people should do the right thing by not exploiting the lives of animals, like Martin Luther King once said, Cowardice asks the question - is it safe? Expediency asks the question - is it politic? Vanity asks the question - is it popular? But conscience asks the question - is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right. (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Quotations, n.d)
Other than that, a principle problem raised by xenotransplantation concerns the relationship between human beings and other animals. In this relationship, the balance of animal suffering and human benefit is questioned. Should animal suffer for the benefits of mankind? Just like humans, animals are self-aware and have their own characteristics and feelings that confer distinct individuality. In other words, they are all unique individuals and may be regarded as persons.
Self-awareness may be described as consciousness an individual has of his or her own situation and past encounters. It has been shown that animals also possess a high level of intelligence and have ability to evaluate and make judgments needed for self-awareness. Self-awareness allows animals to plan, to make choices and to partake in their own complex social relationships.
More importantly, animals and humans sense the same excruciating pain that suffering and death bring upon. Additionally, it has been argued that self-aware animals can perceive the damage being done to his or herself. Taken together, the decision to kill a self-aware animal that may also be regarded as a unique individual is not ours to make (The Culture, Spiritual and Ethical Aspects of Xenotransplantation, 2005). It is considered unethical to kill a self-aware living being.
Clinical trials in the recent years, using animal cells transplanted into humans, have shown very limited success as xenotransplantation triggers a rapid and strong immunological rejection. Graft rejection occurs when the human immune system recognises the animal organ as foreign and attacks it. This would eventually lead to organ failure and imminent death if a major organ such as the heart, liver or kidney is involved.
Moreover, disease and micro-organism that only appears in animal may be passed on to human through xenotransplantation. This includes bacteria and exogenous viruses. For example, Porcine endogenous retrovirus, a disease in pig raised concern involving recipients of pig organs. (The ethics of xenotransplantation, 1996). Furthermore, it is possible for this micro-organism to transfer to the recipient human contact. (David K C Cooper, 2003) This is a major problem as a move to save an individual may eventually become a danger to the society. It may as well turn into a global problem. (Conference of European Churches, n.d) Thus, life-long surveillance is needed for xenotransplant recipients to ensure public health and safety. (Monique A Spillman and Robert M Sade, 2007)
Due to the antibody in human, people with success in xenotransplantation requires a lot of medication and treatment. They have to consume medicine or get injections frequently to avoid or reduce their immune system from rejecting the new organ in their body (David K C Cooper, 2003). Likewise, they would not be able to live long after the transplant. Not to be forgotten is the high cost of all those medication that are required to be paid by them.
Another issue with this process is the short lifespan of the recipient. For instance, natural lifespan of a pig is around 15 years and is thus questioned whether it will fit into human lifespan. Even if it fit, temperature difference between animal and human remain questionable. Using the same animal (pig), human body temperature is around 37C while pig has a body temperature of 39 C. (M D Dooldeniya and A N Warrens, 2003)
To conclude, after centuries of research in the field of xenotransplantation, scientists have yet to produce any significant breakthrough to overcome the strong immunological rejection of animal organs, making the hope of xenotransplantation becoming a common clinical practice unattainable in the near future. Fortunately, scientists and engineers have teamed up to successfully design and create artificial human organs. Since its introduction, many artificial organs have been used to replace damaged organs, saving countless lives of patients with end-stage organ failure.
Moreover, government should help handling the demand of human organs by spreading the usage of donor cards. The donor card is very important as it is needed to prove the donor's willingness to donate their organs in event of their death and without it, precious organs would be wasted. (The ethics of xenotransplantation, 1996)
In addition, the criteria for organ donors should be revised. Currently, human organs are only taken from the "heart beating" donors. In recent studies, transplantations using viable organs from "non-heart beating" persons have similar success rates to those performed with organs from "heart beating" donors. Hence, a "non-heart beating" person should also be considered as a qualified organ donor. If the criteria for organ donors are made less stringent, the supply of organs will rise drastically. (The ethics of xenotransplantation, 1996)
Not to be judged, prevention is better than cure. It is easier to tackle illnesses by preventing them from happening in the first place than to deal with organs failure after they have occurred. To prevent organ failure, one must adopt a healthy diet, exercise regularly and kick bad habits such as smoking and drinking alcohol. A healthy lifestyle leads to a healthy body and greatly reduces the prevalence of pulmonary, cardiac, hepatic and renal failure. This indirectly reduces the demand for organs. (The ethics of xenotransplantation, 1996)
In conclusion, xenotransplantation brings a lot danger to the person undergoing the process. Moreover, the process involves lots of follow ups in which the cost would overcome the cost of artificial organs. Not to be forgotten is those people do not live long after the surgery. Ultimately, this process should not be executed as it is still a cruel process as it involves mutating and killing of animals; living organism just like human!